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Past forward: digitizing LPs and audio cassettes

As a child, you wanted to be a great pianist — or at least a famous one. There are family recordings of you practicing for recitals, with Frederick, your toy owl, propped next to the music rack. You still treasure the Rachmaninoff albums your mother gave you on your birthday. And in a box at the back of your closet, you keep cassettes of those childhood recitals, carefully recorded by your father.

Those days are long gone, as are the family phonograph and cassette deck. But now, courtesy of MIT’s Lewis Music Library (14E-109), you can bring those analog memories into the digital, here-and-now world. And any member of the MIT community can do the same with their vinyl records (LPs) and cassettes.

Getting Started

The Lewis Music Library offers two reformatting workstations on its mezzanine. They are available during library hours at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis. Just show your MIT ID at the front desk to get the password/login information.

Peter Munstedt, Music Librarian, and Forrest Larson, Circulation/Reserves Associate, are happy to help guide you on your way. For starters, here are a few key things to know up front.
  • These workstations are intended to be self-service. There are instructions beside each workstation, but in terms of using the equipment, you’re on your own. (When Larson is in the library, he may be able to provide some basic assistance.)
  • Conversions happen in real time, because the original recordings are analog. If you’re reformatting a one-hour cassette tape, it will take one hour to convert it to a digital file.
  • It’s important that you stay at the workstation for the duration of a conversion. The original material may have a glitch — a skip on an LP record, for example. Or if a workstation looks unattended, someone might come by and stop your recording so they can start their own.
  • Like the photocopiers in the campus libraries, the reformatting workstations are made available under Fair Use guidelines. You are responsible for copyright compliance.
Pick Your Workstation

The two workstations are not identical; here’s a quick look at what each one offers.

Workstation 1

The first workstation, closest to the stairs, is also the most sophisticated. This iMac digitizes LPs and audio cassettes using BIAS Peak LE6 software. The multi-speed turntable can also play 45 and even 78 rpm discs; Larson can provide some help with these.

Use this workstation if you want to record separate tracks for each piece, want to rearrange the order of tracks, or want really clean audio. You can also add metadata — track name, artist, and so on.

With Workstation 1, you can get professional results. While prior experience with computer audio is helpful, the user guide covers the basics of using the software.

Workstation 2

This workstation, a Teac GF-450K7, also converts LPs and audio cassettes. Its virtue is its simplicity. It makes a straight copy; you can’t do any editing. This workstation requires special audio CD-R discs for transfers, which you can get at no charge from the Lewis Music Library’s front desk.

Do It Yourself or Outsource the Work

So far those who’ve used the reformatting service have focused mostly on LPs — perhaps not a surprise since the workstations are located in the Lewis Music Library. Munstedt encourages community members to use the Barton catalog to explore the library’s extensive LP collection — about 10,000 albums are stashed in storage.

If you’ve unearthed some old analog treasures but don’t have the time or expertise to convert them, services on and off campus can do the transfers for a fee. For community members, a good place to start is MIT Audio Visual Services. Either way, Frederick is still waiting to hear your next chord.

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